Road, highway concerns after the storm, with or without plows

Snow plow, St. George, Utah, Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Road conditions throughout the St. George and Southern Utah region improved by the hour Sunday, as sun melted the snow and ice from heavy snowfall Saturday. Crews of many agencies, cities and local contractors worked together to clear main routes of travel and address road and highway related concerns.

In St. George, city crews were out late Saturday and early Sunday with large equipment, including front-end loaders and graders, and putting down sand to help give vehicles traction, Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager, said. Local contractors joined in the effort to clear the steeper streets that had presented the greatest problems for vehicles to ascend Saturday night.

Utah Department of Transportation stepped in with help Saturday night and Sunday, clearing routes under its jurisdiction – Bluff Street, Sunset Boulevard and St. George Boulevard, for example. And then, throughout the day Sunday, UDOT helped address many of the city’s streets as well, UDOT Roadway Operations Manager Todd Abbott said.

“We have two plow masters clearing Foremaster,” Abbott said on Sunday afternoon, “two plow operators on River Road all the way to Southern Parkway, River Road looks great, Dixie Drive all the way to Valley View is great, right now we’re on 1450 South pushing the road back.”

SunTran bus service was suspended when roads became unsafe for the busses Saturday night. But the SunTran service is scheduled to resume normal operation and routes on Monday, Mortensen said.

Interstate 15 had been cleared from the Utah-Arizona state line all the way to Cedar City, Abbott said midday Sunday, and there were no difficulties on I-15 through the Black Ridge during the night. The Black Ridge had been a problem area earlier in the day Saturday, when a semitrailer jack-knifed and blocked southbound traffic for the better part of four hours.

Arizona Highway Patrol’s resources were stretched Saturday as one of three patrolmen on duty for the Arizona Strip accompanied a family to the hospital, leaving two patrolmen at the Gorge. AHP and emergency responders were further tapped when an incoming call alerted them to a rollover in the Gorge – a rollover that they decided must have rather been a slide-out that recovered, AHP Sgt. John Bottoms said, as an extensive search through the Gorge was made for a rollover vehicle producing nothing.  And then the first semitrailer jack-knifed and the dominoes began to fall, ultimately ending in complete closure of Interstate 15 through the Arizona Strip until midday Sunday. See related posts below for the full story.

But AHP did get help from other agencies by Sunday. UDOT took one snow plow to the strip to help clear the Interstate and manage traffic control in the Virgin River Gorge where hundreds of vehicles had been blocked in through the night. Washington County Search and Rescue teams went and helped meet the needs of people in vehicles, assisted with semitrailers getting chained and redirected and the like. And Utah Highway Patrol gave assistance with traffic control Sunday.

Hurricane City had no major accidents Saturday night but did have its share of slide-offs and one minor accident, Hurricane City Police Sgt. Brandon Buell said. The less-travelled roads were still icy at 10 a.m. Sunday but the main roads were mostly warmed up and clear, he said. Only one road closure was required in Hurricane Saturday and into Sunday at 600 North between 870 West and 2260 West, Buell said, due to its steep incline combined with icy conditions.

State Route 9 did not require any closure or bad spots through the snow storm episode that he was aware of, Buell said. There had been no issues on the state highway as of 11 a.m. Sunday.

Local cities and snow plows – or the lack thereof

The City of St. George has one snow plow at the municipal airport, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is there for dedicated use at the airport, and was in use through the night Saturday on into Sunday. The city does not have other snow removal equipment.

Some community members have queried why the City of St. George hasn’t invested in snow removal equipment and why it didn’t just rent snow plows from agencies in the vicinity that do have plows.

“Nobody has snow plows for rent,” Abbott said.

“There are none to just rent,” Mortensen said, “every agency is just using them.”

Snowfall and the fallout from it that was experienced through the weekend is a rare event in St. George. Whether the event justifies the expense of investing in a snow plow in anticipation of another such storm is something city officials will explore as the “snow” dust settles.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people who have lived here for their whole life, or a good portion of it – 30, 40, 50 years – and nobody can recall a time when it snowed this much,” Mortensen said, “this is an extremely rare event.”

City officials are now trying to decide whether or not it would be worth the investment to purchase some kind of snow removal equipment, Mortensen said, an attachable plow, for example.

The cost of just a snow plow, truck and sander could run between $120,000 and $200,000, Abbott said. “So, it’s hard to justify,” he said.

Washington City does not have snow plows, Washington City Police spokesman Ed Kantor said. It did have salters on the back of trucks to address slick spots, and road graders were used on the bad areas.

Hurricane City has no snow removal equipment, Buell said.

Road cautions

As the snow melts and roads clear, drivers are reminded that roads can be slippery and dangerous with “black ice” even when road surfaces may appear dry. UDOT’s winter driving tips urge drivers to take take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady areas, all of which are hot spots for black ice.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Snow plow, St. George, Utah, Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News
Snow plow, St. George, Utah, Dec. 8, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News


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  • Katelyn December 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    I think that if we can afford a carousel, we can afford a plow. In the end, safety should be a priority.

    • joanna December 8, 2013 at 10:28 pm

      Good point. I’d also be willing to bet that all this nonsense cost the city well over 200K in emergency response costs and general loss of productivity.

    • Bender December 8, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      It’s not just a matter of buying snowplows. You need training, maintenance, supplies, written processes, etc. Since this kind of event has occurred every decade or so in the past, it’s understandable that it has been low on the city’s list of priorities.
      It may be that with some planning and on going training the worst of an event like this could be handled with the equipment our city already has or could be contracted with from private parties or other government organizations. I hope our cities and county consider this.
      Stop yer carping about the merry go round. It’s petty and has nothing to do with the unplowed streets.

    • San December 9, 2013 at 12:29 am

      amen sister……

  • San December 9, 2013 at 12:28 am

    11pm…made it from STG to Hurricane without a problem. Thank you to the road crews and lew enforcement (yeah, I saw cars pulled over!).. You guys rock!!!!!

  • Joe December 9, 2013 at 4:27 am

    I have lived in this city for over 30 years and have never seen it snow like it did. I don’t ever even remember a time when a plow was needed. The city does not need to spend the money for something that probably wont be needed for another 30 years. People just need to drive safe or stay off the rode until it melts. Normally within a few hours or by the next day.

  • Mike R. December 9, 2013 at 7:17 am

    A few snow blades that could be put on trucks the city already has wound not cost near that much. Many private individuals have them up north and make good money clearing parking lots.

    • Gunther December 9, 2013 at 8:37 am

      So maybe we should be blaming the private individuals who were not prepared. Can’t blame everything on government.

  • DoubleTap December 9, 2013 at 8:39 am

    $300,000. dollar carousels, 950,000. dollars for a old theater, $20,000. EACH for 3 “Welcome to St. George” monuments and 3-4 more to come, and that’s just SOME of the recent city expenditures.
    $20,000.00 (for one welcome monument), would have paid for one detachable plow and the necessary
    gear to install on a city owned truck. WOW….says a lot for the city’s priorities.

    • JJ December 9, 2013 at 9:12 am

      A carousel and a theater would be used much more than a snowplow ever would be

      • DoubleTap December 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm

        You are correct JJ. As the theater only seats about 100 people max, that about sums it up for the theater. And as for the carousel, for about $1.00 per ride, (when it is up and running), we should see that turning a profit very soon, huh?

  • JJ December 9, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Remember when the Great Salt Lake flooded in 1983 and the people overreacted to that and they built those multi-million dollar pumps to pump flood water onto the salt flats, and they have NEVER EVER been used since? Pretty sure buying snow plows would be very similar. Let’s not overreact, people- freak events occur. This roll with it.

  • Dan Lester December 9, 2013 at 9:25 am

    The story says the city used city equipment to clear streets. Local contractors also used their equipment. Presumably the city paid them for their work. The system worked without a giant investment in rarely used equipment. So what’s the problem with a “once in a lifetime” experience? Note from your TV news that places that get tons of snow all the time can’t keep up with it in a big storm.

    I’ve lived in Minnesota and other places that are much colder and snowier, and have had to spend the night at work because all streets and roads were closed. Stuff happens. Big deal.

  • My Evil Twin December 9, 2013 at 11:57 am

    People need to stop expecting “Big Brother Government,” (whether it is city, county, state or federal,) to take care of them. It is WINTER TIME for heaven’s sake. (Even if the calendar disagrees with that. . .) People need to be prepared. If you have a vehicle and you drive it in the winter time, you need to have survival in mind. Blankets, food, water, extra outer clothing. Just like in the summer time, you need to be prepared by having food and water with you.
    If you aren’t willing to take the steps necessary to survive a few hours of being stranded, you have no right to snivel and whine about the government not doing their job.
    There is plenty of information out there about what it takes to make it through a rough time. And there is no excuse for not being prepared.

  • Allie December 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    We can not depend on government to do everything for us at the drop of a hat. This was an unusual event. People have to remember how to take responsibility for themselves. Did everyone run out and buy a snowblower? i doubt it. But the option is there. No snowplow for your street? So when your done shoveling out the drive way, why not clear the street on your side in front of your house? If everyone on the street did the same thing, the street would be clear. It would be nice to all chip in and do it for any neighbor who is incapacitated too. This was a freak weather occurrence. We don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for something we won’t need for who knows when. I sold my snowblower when I moved here, but kept the shovel, just in case. Spring is just around the corner.

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